Talking with Young Children about Current Events

We have just experienced an election season filled with emotion. Many parents are asking about ways they can help their preschooler understand the messages they may be hearing, and how families can focus on the points around this election that are important to them.

The PBSParents web site offers communication strategies for talking about news and current events in general. The recommendations that have been paraphrased below can be applied to the news we have been hearing and will continue to hear over the next months around the election, as well as other news events as they arise.  Use these tips to keep communication about the news developmentally appropriate for what your child needs:

Communication Strategies for Preschoolers:

It’s not necessary to discuss events on the news, unless you know your preschooler has been exposed to them. If you’re aware of this or observe changes in her behavior, you probably should discuss the news event in age-appropriate ways. Changes to look for might include increased interest in war-related play — pretending blocks are missiles, for instance — or behavior that is out of character with your child, such as increased difficulty with separation or trouble going to sleep.

However, it is useful to discuss news that is connected to your preschooler’s life. “The news is a way of learning about the world, so early discussion about your young child’s experiences in the world sets the stage for more in-depth discussions as your child gets older,” says Diane Levin, Ph.D. “These discussions can come out of day-to-day activities you do together. “Talk about the weather outside and then watch the weather report or listen to it, talk about an election when you take your child to the polls, and talk about recycling as you put the cans out together.”

If your child has a question, ask what she knows in an open-ended way. You might ask, “What do you know about that?” and then answer your child’s question in an age-appropriate way. “Finding out what your child understands about what she has seen or heard will help guide your response. It’s not just the fears you want to deal with, you may want to clear up confusions and misconceptions that may be scaring your children. You don’t need to over-explain in ways that are not age-appropriate but you do want to clear up the confusion,” advises Diane Levin, Ph.D.

Explain that you are safe. When children hear or see a scary event on the news, they often relate it to themselves and may feel directly threatened. Reassuring your child that he is safe and that this news is not happening here should help him feel secure. Reviewing and maintaining routines can be comforting as well. For example, you might explain what time you will be home, who will pick your child up from school and what your plans are for the weekend.

Provide art materials, blocks, dolls, and stuffed animals. Playing with these objects will help your child explore what she feels. In a response to a specific news story, offer related props for the play. (Provide toy cars if your child talks about the police cars on the news or in the neighborhood, for example.)

Snuggle and cuddle. As you would with an even younger child, offer lots of cuddling and hugs, and be patient and sensitive to changes in patterns of eating, sleeping and toileting.

Listen carefully. Find out what your child has to say about the news. There is no “right way” of thinking about a topic and your young child will interpret it differently than you. So listen to what he says and base what you say on his interpretation, not your own.

 

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